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FCEDC ups city funding request

Published 6/16/2010 in Local News

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

Local economic officials were met with uncertainty as they made their request to Garden City officials for a hefty funding increase next year, funds they said are critical to carrying out economic development goals and strengthening the area's quality of life.

Board members of the Finney County Economic Development Corp. made their request to city commissioners for $255,000 beginning in 2011, an increase from the FCEDC's 2010 allocation of $89,000 from the city.

Finney County commissioners also met FCEDC officials with mixed reaction during a similar funding increase request during a June 7 meeting.

The county, one of FCEDC's four major funding partners, is considering a $590,000 allocation for 2011, $465,000 higher than the group's 2010 allocation.

If both city and county requests are granted, the corporation would receive just less than $900,000 next year from all of its funding partners combined, which also includes Holcomb and Garden City Community College. The funds would allow the group to set up incentives such as low interest loans for small business, cash grant incentives, specific academic training programs designed to enhance skilled labor, further development of industrial properties and recruitment of advancing industries with strong future growth trends, FCEDC officials have said.

FCEDC board chairwoman Cathy McKinley told city commissioners Tuesday that the city's funds were critical for the corporation's pursuit of its goals. McKinley, who also serves as Garden City Community College's dean of continuing education and community services, said Tuesday that while FCEDC's fixed or operating costs have been reduced over time, the group does not have the funds to be competitive in the market or to attract and retain businesses and industries. A lack of empty buildings, cash incentives and availability of developable land continue to be barriers, she added.

Following a mid-May trip to Amarillo, Texas, where FCEDC and other city and county officials met with Amarillo economic developers, McKinley said the successes of the Texas panhandle city should serve as a guide for Finney County. FCEDC officials have said the recent trip has been an impetus for its city and county funding requests.

Amarillo has funded its economic development group and its business retention and attraction efforts with a city-wide sales tax since 1989 that generates between $12 and $15 million annually, about $64 per capita in economic development dollars. In comparison, the per capita rate in Finney County is about $5.63, McKinley said.

Commissioner Reynaldo Mesa was receptive to FCEDC's request, though the commissioner said he could not envision more than a quarter or half city mill increase in the near future.

"For the last 15 years, we've been kicking economic development around like it's a football," Mesa said Tuesday. "If we don't give them the right tools, we won't get the right projects. We give them a little, but we expect big things. We're going to have to step up to the plate, whether it's a ballot question for (a sales tax increase) or property taxes. At some point we have to get real."

The commissioner's proposal would provide FCEDC between $127,000 and $156,000 from the city based on 2011 city mill estimates. City officials estimate the value of a city mill at about $152,500 in 2011, just a little less than the corporation's one mill levy increase request. Valuations will be tallied by the county in early July.

Commissioner John Doll was not as receptive. He said he could not justify increases in property taxes at this time.

"If it were on the ballot, I would vote for it, but people have told us twice they don't want this," Doll said Tuesday.

In both November 2005 and April 2007, county voters rejected quarter-cent sales-tax proposals, officials estimated would have raised $1.2 million to $1.4 million annually. FCEDC officials decided in late 2007 not to pursue a third sales tax vote.

The corporation also is requesting $11,000 and $11,750 in 2011 from its two other funding partners, Holcomb and GCCC, respectively, which is similar to previous years.

McKinley said in an e-mail Wednesday that her board would continue to pursue the goals set forth by FCEDC and its funding partners regardless of the outcomes of the funding requests made to the city and county. She said that the FCEDC may explore private funding options in the future.

FCEDC President Eric Depperschmidt said today that while local officials have expressed concerns about how funds would be controlled, the group's funding partners should maintain trust in their representatives.

"These board members have been appointed by the city and county and our other funding partners, so there is a level of accountability," he said. "Like (McKinley) said yesterday, it's not about FCEDC getting money; it's about the betterment of the community."

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